Free museum shows and exhibits in New York City

Want to get a dose of art and culture without spending a penny? Head to one of these free museum shows.

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Attention, art lovers! (Or people who occasionally view art! Or those who’d like to view more!) There are free museum shows happening in Chelsea and beyond every day. Find ’em below. 


RECOMMENDED: Full list of free things to do in NYC


"Motown: The Truth Is a Hit"

  • Critics choice
  • Free

The Schomburg Center has teamed up with the Motown Museum and Motown—The Musical to celebrate the history and sounds of Detroit’s most revered record label. Go beyond the matching suits and sequined gowns (though those are on display too) and explore how Motown became the unofficial soundtrack of the civil-rights movement. Yes, the same label that released Marvin Gaye and the Supremes put out the original recording of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech.—Lisa Rifkind

  1. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture 515 Malcolm X Blvd (Lenox Ave), at 135th St
  2. Thu Jul 10 - Sat Jul 26
More info

Socrates Sculpture Park Spring Show

  • Critics choice
  • Free

It’s harder to justify indoor art-peeping once the weather is nice, and you don’t have to. Head to the en plein air sculpture haven—one of the city’s few locales designated specifically for outdoor works. Then, get up close with large-scale creations, the handiwork of three international artists and an architectural firm, while working on your tan. The superlative view of the Manhattan skyline doesn’t hurt either.

  1. Socrates Sculpture Park 32-01 Vernon Blvd, at Broadway
  2. Thu Jul 10 - Sun Aug 3
More info

"The Sochi Project: An Atlas of War and Tourism in the Caucasus"

  • Critics choice
  • Free

Photographer Rob Hornstra and writer Arnold van Bruggen spent the past five years documenting the people of Sochi, Russia (which you might remember as the locale of this year's somewhat slushy Winter Olympics). See their unvarnished take on the complex region's people and places.

  1. Aperture Gallery 547 W 27th St, between Tenth and Eleventh Aves, fourth floor, 10001
  2. Thu Jul 10
More info

"Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum"

  • Critics choice
  • Free

The maker movement may seem like just another trendy consequence of our start-up–saturated world, but the whole DIY thing is actually an inherent part of American cultural tradition. Instead of whiling away an afternoon browsing Etsy, head to the city’s craft capital to survey 100 works by artists, spanning the post-Revolutionary era to the present, who figured things out for themselves. This sampling of the museum’s permanent collection chronicles the changing implications of self-education, from its ties to America’s first steps as an independent nation to its current status as the hallmark of artistic boundary-pushing. Tue 13–Aug 17.

  1. American Folk Art Museum 2 Lincoln Sq, Columbus Ave, at 66th St
  2. Thu Jul 10 - Sun Aug 17
More info

“Moving Murals: Henry Chalfant & Martha Cooper’s All-City Graffiti Archive”

  • Critics choice
  • Free

For its debut exhibit, City Lore revisits the street-art-painted subway cars of NYC in the ’70s and early ’80s. Images of more than 850 tattooed trains line the wall of the gallery, creating an immersive environment that echoes the rail yards where artists practice their craft. Through July 10.

  1. City Lore Gallery 56 E 1st St, between First and Second Aves, 10003
  2. Thu Jul 10
More info

"From Shore to Shore: Boat Builders and Boatyards Alive Today"

  • Critics choice
  • Free

For many Gothamites, personal experience with the New York Harbor is limited to a onetime Circle Line tour or the occasional booze cruise. For a handful, though, boating is a way of life. Climb aboard Red Hook’s historic Lehigh Valley No. 79—the hundred-year-old craft is one of the last surviving railway barges in the country—to view a series of video interviews in which master craftsmen from 13 of today’s still-thriving boatyards reflect on changing technology over 200 years of maritime tradition. Peruse photographs of their boatyards in the Bronx, City Island, Long Island and Upper Nyack in addition to the museum’s collection of historical tools.

  1. Waterfront Museum and Showboat Barge 290 Conover St, at Pier 44
  2. Thu Jul 10 - Sat Jul 12
More info

"Exposed: A History of Lingerie"

  • Critics choice
  • Free

Whatever your interest in ladies’ undergarments, you’ll see more than 70 iterations from throughout history at the Museum at FIT’s new exhibit. From a circa-1770 whalebone corset to Rudi Gernreich’s wireless “no-bra bra” of the ’60s, the exhibit looks at how form and function have shifted over time, as well as how nightgowns and other silhouette-framing pieces (like the Juel Park couture favored by Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor) have inspired formal wear and everyday clothes alike.

  1. The Museum at FIT Seventh Ave, at 27th St
  2. Thu Jul 10 - Sat Nov 15
More info

“Interference: Coexistence”

  • Critics choice
  • Free

Humanity hasn’t yet developed the technology to create the holodeck from Star Trek: The Next Generation, but the Center for the Holographic Arts is doing its best to keep the dream alive at this LIC art space. “Interference: Coexistence” shows off holographic art by 25 of the world’s best 3-D artists, with selected pieces from the heady, future-obsessed decades of the ’70s and ’80s. The Clock Tower, 29-27 41st Ave at Jackson Ave, Long Island City, Queens.

  1. Queens
  2. Thu Oct 2 - Sat Oct 18
More info
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